Saving the lives of mothers and babies

In this article North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson, reports on a debate she led at Westminster on an issue very close to her, concerning the dangerous condition in pregnancy known as pre-eclampsia.

Every year, around 40,000 women globally die from complications in pregnancy because of a devastating condition called pre-eclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure.

In Scotland, thankfully, mortality for women with pre-eclampsia is low. Tragically, it still takes the lives of around 100 babies each year who would otherwise have been born healthy. Babies like my own son, Kenneth, who died two days after his due date.

Pre-eclampsia can strike with no apparent warning, most notably in the second half of a pregnancy or up to six weeks after delivery. There is no cure, but it can be treated and managed, so identifying it early can be the difference between life and death.

With World Pre-Eclampsia Day on 22 May, I was pleased to lead Westminster’s first-ever debate on this issue, to help raise awareness of the condition and highlight how we could do more to reduce its impact on mothers and their babies.

Astonishingly, nowhere in the UK does the NHS record the number of women who develop pre-eclampsia, how many babies die or how much the condition costs the NHS here in Scotland or across the UK.

The lack of detail is quite staggering. We need clear information to know the true scale of the challenge in detecting and treating pre-eclampsia to prevent the death of more babies.

It cannot be predicted with certainty who will develop this complex illness or its cause. Because symptoms and signs are not reliable or consistent, women may be admitted to hospital unnecessarily or severe pre-eclampsia may go undiagnosed. I, like too many other women, know how tragic that can be. Looking out for pre-eclampsia, being aware of and treating it, must be on the radar of all health professionals dealing with expectant mothers. Recognition and early intervention are vital, and when signs are present, it is important they are not missed.

Often the only action possible when a pregnant woman presents with pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby. However, this can mean delivering a baby dangerously prematurely. Ongoing research is needed to reduce the need to deliver early and minimize the risks to mothers with pre-eclampsia and their babies.

One ray of hope lies in a new blood test (PIGF), which indicates whether an expectant mother has the disease and, when used in women with suspected pre-eclampsia, can reliably indicate if she will need to deliver soon. It can tell whether the baby is at risk and whether the mother must be admitted to hospital or can safely return home.

This test offers progress in combatting pre-eclampsia through early diagnosis and treatment. It will soon be available in England and I am currently in correspondence with the SNP Government to ensure it becomes available in Scotland. This test is too important, too accurate and the information it yields too informative not to be available as and when necessary.

It won’t just save lives; it will save NHS resources and offer expectant parents huge reassurance about the health of their baby.

Patricia Gibson MP
North Ayrshire & Arran